LANSING, Mich. — The Lansing School District welcomed more than 500 students into its new free universal preschool program on Thursday.
One of those students was 4-year-old Dominic Lewis.
“I’m excited that I’m going to meet new friends,” Dominic said.
Dominic’s mom, Jennifer, and dad, Dejuan, were right by his side as he walked into the school doors for his first day, and they said they’re just happy he’s getting a quality education for free.
“We have been offering preschool for many years, but now with universal preschool, any child that lives in this area can have access to this wonderful program, which is a full day, four days a week,” said Lansing schools Deputy Superintendent Sergio Keck. “It’s an opportunity for kids to learn and be in a social setting."
“I don’t believe this should be just a program, I think it should be standard. I believe preschool should be for everyone,” Dejuan Lewis said.
The program is spread out in over 28 classrooms in 14 schools throughout the district, and it was paid for out of the district's general fund, COVID relief money and more.
“We heard from families,” Superintendent Ben Shuldiner said. "They say, 'Thank you so much for literally saving us thousands dollars a year.' Because now, they don’t have to pay for a private institution because the Lansing School District is going to take care of them and that’s what we’re here for.”
Shuldiner has been pushing free pre-K within the district since he started in July. He said he’s thrilled because the fall enrollment numbers for preschool are much higher than in previous years.
On Thursday, the district welcomed 512 pre-K students, as opposed to 374 students in a more limited program in 2019.
“The earlier you get a child into school, the better,” Shuldiner said. “The academic and emotional support you get being in a classroom early is just tremendous.”
For parents like Jennifer and DeJuan Lewis, their gratitude is hard to put in words.
“It helped a lot, because a lot more kids can now have that development before kindergarten,” Jennifer Lewis said.
The Lansing School District received 550 applications for the universal free preschool program and district officials said they’re hoping to make accommodations to bring all those students into the program.